Ramen Chemistry

I’m Jake Freed. I just started a restaurant company. It’s called Shiba Ramen. We’re going to open our first shop (selling ramen, of course) in 2015 somewhere in the Oakland-Berkeley-Emeryville area of the East San Francisco Bay. This blog—Ramen Chemistry—is going to follow our progress and explain, in detail, everything that goes into building what we hope will be a successful business. And I mean everything in the broadest sense of the word: food and design, business and legal, science and technology, and the way our unique backgrounds inform how we run our business.

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Starting and running a successful business means mastering all the elements of the business. For a restaurant, the core element is unquestionably the food. But the food interacts with a manifold of other elements to produce the whole. Now, I’m not a restauranteur or a chef by training—I’m a chemist and a lawyer—but I love picking up new tasks, figuring out what I need to know, and going out and making myself competent. The same is true of my wife and collaborator (also a chemist!), Hiroko. And I think that skill set is suited to this task. We’re going to have to learn everything as we go. Some things—forming a corporate entity or applying for a trademark—are transparent enough from my legal training. But other things—renting and renovating commercial real estate, managing employees, building a brand—are altogether new territory for us. Believe it or not, so is ramen! But making ramen seems a lot like chemistry to us, and we think we’re up to the challenge.

My objective with this blog is to convey, as comprehensively—and as comprehensibly—as I can, the elements that go into the making of our ramen business. And that’s why I’m calling the blog Ramen Chemistry. Nevertheless, I am planning to do a series of posts on the chemistry of ramen. Not only the chemistry-like process of making ramen, but also the actual chemistry underlying its ingredients and flavors.

Once we decided to go forward with this business, it occurred to me that I should write about the experience of building it. There is unlikely to be another topic that I can write about with more intimacy and insight than this one, especially writing in near real time as the experience unfolds. I’ll write about ways in which our backgrounds in chemistry, law, and Japanese language and culture impact and inform our business, our decision-making, and our strategic thinking. I’ll take forays into science and law when I think there is something interesting to share. I’ll tell you about some of the confidence-building projects that we did in our home over the past few years, which in effect enabled us to take on something this significant.

I want my readers to learn as we learn, every step of the way. It’s the learning process that makes this so interesting to me. If we want to succeed—and we very much do—we will have to be open-minded and adaptable. We aren’t experts, and that’s the whole point.

My goal is that, a couple of years down the road, readers of this blog will have a roadmap to go out and build a business. Not an abstract roadmap, but a practical one. I want you to read the posts on Ramen Chemistry and feel enabled to go out and do things you didn’t think you could do. Read this blog and you’ll learn a lot about making ramen, but you’ll also learn how to renovate and design a restaurant space, how register a company with your state and how to secure a commercial lease. I’ll combine our real-life experience with Shiba Ramen with the insights from the resources I rely on to educate myself along the way. I taught organic chemistry at Harvard for five years, and my days as a lawyer are dedicated to explaining complicated concepts. I’ll use those skills to make Ramen Chemistry both entertaining and educational.

Here are a few areas I’ll explore as Ramen Chemistry gets going:

  • Ramen – What goes into a bowl and how it’s made. I’ll cover our product development process and Hiroko’s recent trip to Japan for ramen school.

  • Design – We’re designing our brand from the ground up. Logo, menu, website, physical space, the works. This is the fun stuff.

  • Business – Securing commercial real estate, finding and evaluating suppliers, controlling costs, raising money, employment issues.

  • Legal – Incorporating a business and getting the entity up and running, issuing shares, applying for trademarks and licenses.

  • Science – The molecules responsible for umami and the molecular mechanism of the umami response.

  • Japan & Shiba Inus – We’re selling authentic Japanese food, so Japanese food and culture is central to our business. And that iconic Japanese dog, the shiba inu, is the inspiration for our company’s name.

  • Starter Projects – You have to figure out what you’re capable of before taking on this kind of project. It’s an invaluable process, and it’s exactly what we spent a few years doing before starting Shiba Ramen.

I love imagery and photography and I value them as teaching tools. I will make Ramen Chemistry as visual as I can, not only to be nice to look at, but also to be maximally informative to the reader.

With a scope this broad, I understand that not everyone will be interested in every topic I post about. My goals, though, are to tell an engaging overall story through examination of its component elements, and to enable readers to go out and make their own uses of those elements. Sure, the food aspect of this blog might be most interesting to most people, but aspiring entrepreneurs might care most about knowing how to decide between forming an LLC and an S-Corporation, or how to set up a board of directors. And because I will write based on my experience, readers will be able to take comfort in knowing that somebody has actually done a given task, and that instructions and pitfalls are being shared. To that end, I will do my best to establish my own credibility and earn the trust of my readers. I’ll do this by telling you what we did, why we did it, and whether or not it led to a good result.

And with that, Ramen Chemistry has its first post, and is off and running. In the next posts, I’ll tell you where the Shiba Ramen project is today and a bit more about us, our backgrounds, and how we ended up starting a ramen company.